Global development leaders offer suggestions for next US president

The carpet bearing the U.S. presidential seal. Photo by: Lawrence Jackson / The White House

The diverse group of leaders who make up the U.S. President’s Global Development Council have a few recommendations for the next administration.

The new president should continue to emphasize the importance of global development issues and take up some of the standing proposals already on the table, they said during a final public meeting on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

The group of 11 development leaders from different industries and backgrounds were appointed by President Barack Obama to provide advice on development policies and practices. They reflected on past progress, did a bit of praising development gains, but also looked ahead at what still needs to be done.

The council has been a strong proponent of private sector engagement in development and of building more partnerships between companies, civil society and the U.S. government. That philosophy of inclusion should underpin future development policy as well, several members of the council said.

Their suggestions ranged from the broad — improving cross-agency coordination — to the specific, such as urging the creation of a pay-for-performance “Forest Foundation Fund” to reduce deforestation and restore degraded lands.

Standing suggestions

The next president could consider one of the council’s early recommendations, as yet unfulfilled, to create a one-stop shop where companies can go to engage with the U.S. government on development issues.

Members also urged the next president to tackle a range of climate-smart policies, including investing in efforts to restore degraded lands. If official estimates are accurate, food production will need to be doubled by 2050 to feed the world’s population. Land restoration provides a “means to expand agricultural production without clearing forested areas or degrading other critical natural resource lands and waters,” according to a report the council released this month.

Because it facilitates conservation, land restoration would also help reduce global warming, said William Kelly, a council member and the former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The council recommends an executive order mandating “deforestation-free procurement procedures by 2020,” the report said.

Also aimed at climate change, the council recommends creating a “Forest Foundation Fund” paying developing countries based on their performance in reducing deforestation or restoring degraded lands. That fund would help test the type of results-based financing the council hopes the next president will continue to explore.

The council also recommended two other specific policy actions for the next president: further supporting the use of cash or digital payments in development programs and helping to lead reforms to the humanitarian aid system.

A philosophy of aid

In addition to specific issues, the next president will have to determine what role global development will play in broader U.S. foreign policy. Obama, who was the first president to issue a presidential policy directive on global development, has elevated aid as a part of national security policy and included the USAID administrator in National Security Council meetings.

The next president could adopt a similar stance. They could also reduce the visibility of aid or go further toward elevating it, for example by creating a cabinet level position for global development — a move that some development experts and practitioners have called for.

Alan Patricof, a council member who is the managing director of venture capital firm Greycrott LLC, said the country is ready for a global development cabinet member. He added it could be the necessary step toward making development a more prominent priority.

Part of the conversation about the role of aid may lead to questions about legislation. The council has largely steered away from discussing an update to the 1961 U.S. Foreign Assistance Act, due to its complexity, said Steven Schwager, a member of the council. While Congress has passed a host of global development legislation this year, the foreign assistance act has been a thorny issue.

“We’ve come a long way and it may be time for another look,” Schwager said.

One piece of legislation proposed by the council may enjoy more bipartisan support: the creation of a central U.S. development bank. Having a single agency could facilitate better coordination between the long list of government agencies engaged in development finance.

The proposed development finance institution would include what is today the Overseas Private Investment Corp., the U.S. Trade and Development Agency’s feasibility studies and technical assistance programs, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s private sector units that deal with business related issues, USAID’s Development Credit Authority, enterprise funds and technical assistance programs that are part of the Small Business Administration and the Treasury Department.  

So far, the proposal has been held up in the “nongoings on” in Congress. But that’s not necessarily due to a lack of bipartisan support, Schwager told Devex. If a bill was introduced, Schwager said, he thought it would succeed.

In fact, Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, among others, are discussing introducing a bill proposing a development bank in the upcoming lame duck session of Congress, said John Norris, a member of the council and the executive director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at the Center for American Progress.

Remaining opportunities in 2016

Despite his dwindling time in office, the council didn’t let Obama off the hook just yet. The president could take action on a number of development issues before his term ends, the council said. Members offered what chair Mohamed El-Erian called a “menu of options” for his last few months in office.

For one, the council recommends that Obama issue an executive order giving OPIC the ability to make direct, or equity, investments, an authority the organization has asked for in budget requests.

Other items on the menu include issuing an executive order to mandate deforestation-free procurement by 2020; a presidential memorandum on evidence-based funding that would push agencies to better evaluate impact; and institutionalizing USAID’s Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning to further engrain the role of policy at USAID.

These recommendations may well be the final act of the council; whether it exists in the future will be up to the next president. The body’s final report acts as a scorecard for how the Obama administration has responded to its previous suggestions. The result is a passing grade overall, with lingering suggestions that didn’t get off the ground. It will be up to the next president to decide if they are worth picking up and taking forward.

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About the author

  • Saldiner adva

    Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.